America – The Helpless ‘Superpower’

by Justin Raimondo via Antiwar.com {1}

Zero Hedge (September 20 2016)

The year was 1955, the dawn of the cold war, and an old prophet was writing what would be his last book. It was a volume of history – The American Story {2}, he called it – in which he reviewed the cavalcade of twists and turns that had brought us to that moment when we stood “at the top of the world”, as he put it. There was no terrorist threat back then – not counting the threat of global annihilation that hung over us during those years of “duck and cover” and backyard bomb shelters. Yet Garet Garrett {3} – a former editor of the New York Times and the Saturday Evening Post, an Old Right “isolationist” who lived in exile on a New Jersey farm – foresaw our present age, and what we would become:

 

 

How, now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?

Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.

To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?

 

 

Garrett knew where we were going, and we are living that reality today, sixty years after he wrote those words.

On a late summer Saturday night in the Chelsea district of New York City an explosion {4} caused by an IED that injured 29 people shook the nation: a second bomb was discovered a few blocks from the first site and disabled. This was preceded by a pipe bomb going off {5} at the site of a benefit run for families of US Marines in Seaside, New Jersey, a mere ninety minutes away: multiple devices were found at the same location and were disabled. Injuries were prevented only because the event was delayed due to the size of the crowd; five thousand people would have been in proximity otherwise. To top it off, a person invoking Allah stabbed eight people {6} at a mall in Saint Cloud, Minnesota – albeit not before first asking them if they were Muslim. ISIS has claimed responsibility {7} for the stabbing spree, dubbing the perpetrator a “soldier of Islam”.

Imagine you are a visitor from Mars, watching all this from a very great height. Surely two aspects of this are striking:

To begin with, we have the world’s sole superpower, which purports to be the defender of the “international order”, unable to ensure the security of its own citizens on its own soil. We send our fleet thousands of miles away, to the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea to “protect” the sea lanes – and yet we cannot protect Americans on the streets of New York City.

Secondly, the reactions to this amazing fact reveal a strange bifurcation: government officials and the national news media (or do I repeat myself?) are in denial, while ordinary Americans are on the cusp between anger and hysteria. The reaction of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was emblematic of the former: he said {8} the explosion was “intentional” but not linked to terrorism. He went on to say:

 

 

Now, I want to be clear: Whatever the cause, whatever the intention here, New Yorkers will not be intimidated. We are not going to let anyone change who we are or how we go about our lives.

 

 

This is the very definition of terrorism, but apparently the policy of denial is supposed to keep people calm. What’s more likely is that it does just the opposite. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, apparently concerned that this was a bit too much cognitive dissonance for the public, weighed in {4} by saying it was “obviously” terrorism, but that there’s no evidence it was linked to international terrorism.

One has to be remarkably obtuse to ignore the pattern: three attacks on the same day, one of which a terrorist group has claimed “credit” for, two of which are similar in their modes of operation – a bomb in a dumpster on a public thoroughfare. Authorities are now confirming that the Chelsea and Seaside explosive devices were put together by the same person {9}. Put this in the context of continuing threats from Islamic terrorists that they will hit the homeland, and the only conclusion one can draw is that the events of September 17 were a coordinated attack – and the prime suspects aren’t Presbyterians {10}.

It isn’t “Islamophobia” to acknowledge this – it’s realism. After all, the very “blowback” theory offered up by critics of US intervention in the Middle East has to lead us to this conclusion: it makes perfect sense that, having spent the greater part of the past twenty years leveling much of the Muslim world to the ground, some of the inhabitants would be coming after us.

What’s more, it’s an indisputable fact that the US government is now at war with one billion Muslims – at least, that’s how they perceive it. The origins of this war can be traced back to US foreign policy, yes, but that’s not the whole story. It’s gone way beyond that. Given the history of the post-9/11 era – the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Syria – a significant portion of the Muslim world has integrated this conflict into their religion. “Jihad” is a religious duty in mainstream Islam, and Muslims – unlike most Westerners – take their faith seriously.

So what’s the solution? Simply put, there is none. We cannot undo the history of the last fifteen years: the winds of blowback are unstoppable. The US government cannot possibly protect its citizens from random attacks on soft targets, such as the Chelsea district of New York City on a Saturday night, or a mall in Minnesota. Our vaunted system of universal surveillance hasn’t worked in the case of San Bernardino, Orlando, the Boston bombing, the Fort Hood massacre – and it didn’t work on September 17.

We can no more stop the terrorist assault on the homeland than a child who puts his finger in an electric outlet can avoid a shock. This is the New Normal – and the consequences for our republic, our politics, and our everyday lives can only be painted in the darkest hues. This is why the first response of our elected “leaders” is kneejerk denial: an honest confession of their powerlessness would only inspire panic – and retribution.

Speaking of retribution: the response of ordinary Americans is quite different. Unlike our political class, they are realists who know what they see: given a choice between security and virtue-signaling they’ll take the former every time. What they don’t yet understand is that, as Garrett put it, “there is no security at the top of the world”.

Oh, they can go along with Donald Trump’s scheme of keeping all Muslims out of the country – but some will get through, not to mention those who are already here. We can build a wall, but can we inspect each and every ship that docks at our ports, and examine the cargo with a fine-toothed comb? We can blast ISIS to smithereens in the deserts of Syria – but this will merely disperse the contagion, spreading it to Europe, the steppes of Central Asia, and to the US itself.

What’s worse is that our own government has enabled the very enemies who plot our destruction. The US has openly allied with Islamist radicals in order to bring about regime change in Syria: the results of that policy are underscored by the recent incident in which US Special Forces were forced to flee {11} from a village in the northern part of the country when the “moderate” Islamists we’ve been funding and arming threatened to slaughter them on the spot. The same thing happened in Libya, where we “liberated” the country from Ghaddafi and the very rebels we empowered with air strikes and aid murdered our Ambassador and three others at Benghazi. To go farther back in time, our aid to the Afghan mujahideen who were fighting the Soviets in the 1980s led to the consolidation of al-Qaeda and the rise of Osama bin Laden as the leader and symbol of a global terrorist insurgency.

To top it off, we still regard the Saudis as “allies” in spite of the fact that they had a hand in the 9/11 attacks {12}. Washington is openly colluding with our enemies while the nation sleeps.

Trump, to his credit, is critical of these policies, at least in part. Yet his alternative vision is inchoate, vague, and contradictory on those rare occasions when he gets down to specifics. He is, in short, the embodiment of the American zeitgeist at this historical moment: enraged, confused, and liable to lash out in any direction.

Yet Trump’s critique of the political class, and his diagnosis of the US as an empire in decline, is what gives his message resonance – and it’s one reason why the political class hates him with a passion. His success is the measure of their failure.

We are headed for some dark times. In spite of that, however, there will always be those who will uphold the original spirit of our old republic and fight to defend it against all comers. Out of this will come a renewal – that is, if there is to be one.

Links:

{1} http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2016/09/18/america-helpless-superpower/

{2} http://www.antiwar.com/orig/anti-imp2.html

{3} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garet_Garrett

{4} http://pix11.com/2016/09/17/fdny-confirms-outdoor-explosion-in-chelsea/

{5} http://www.nj.com/ocean/index.ssf/2016/09/investigators_still_canvassing_sore_town_where_exp.html

{6} http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2016/09/18/shoppers-witnesses-st-cloud-mall-stabbing/

{7} https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/09/18/man-shot-dead-after-stabbing-8-people-in-a-minnesota-mall/?utm_term=.52230a148d0a

{8} http://abc7ny.com/news/mayor-chelsea-explosion-was-intentional-no-connection-to-terrorism/1515982/

{9} https://twitter.com/LisaDaftari/status/777599366592880641

{10} http://nypost.com/2016/09/18/there-will-be-more-chilling-911-call-after-the-chelsea-explosion/

{11} http://news.antiwar.com/2016/09/16/us-troops-flee-syrian-town-after-us-backed-rebels-threaten-to-kill-them/

{12} https://28pages.org/

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-09-20/america-helpless-superpower

Categories: Uncategorized

Deep State America

One explanation Why US Policies Serve No National Interests

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection (September 20 2016)

A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media

On September 9th the Washington Post featured a front page article describing how the Defense Department had used warplanes to attack targets and kill suspected militants in six countries over the Labor Day weekend. The article was celebratory, citing Pentagon officials who boasted of the ability to engage “multiple targets” anywhere in the world in what has become a “permanent war”. The article did not mention that the United States is not currently at war with any of the six target countries and made no attempt to make a case that the men and women who were killed actually threatened the US or American citizens.

Actual American interests in fighting a war without limits and without an end were not described. They never are. Indeed, in the US and elsewhere many citizens often wonder how certain government policies like the Washington’s war on terror can persist in spite of widespread popular opposition or clear perceptions that they are either ineffective or even harmful. This persistence of policies regarding which there is no debate is sometimes attributed to a “deep state”.

The phrase “deep state” originated in and was often applied to Turkey, in Turkish “Derin Devlet”, where the nation’s security services and governing elite traditionally pursued the same chauvinistic and inward-looking agenda both domestically and in foreign affairs no matter who was prime minister.

In countries where a deep state dominates, real democracy and rule of law are inevitably the first victims. A deep state like Turkey’s is traditionally organized around a center of official and publicly accepted power, which means it often includes senior government officials, the police and intelligence services as well as the military. For the police and intelligence agencies the propensity to operate in secret is a sine qua non for the deep state as it provides cover for the maintenance of relationships that under other circumstances would be considered suspect or even illegal.

It has been claimed that deep state activities in Turkey are frequently conducted through connivance with politicians who are able to provide cover for the activity, with corporate interests and sometimes even with criminal groups, which can operate across borders and help in the mundane tasks of political corruption to include money laundering. This connection of political power with the ability to operate under the radar and generate considerable cash flows are characteristic of deep state.

As all governments for sometimes good reasons engage in concealment of their more questionable activities or even resort to out and out deception, one must ask how the deep state differs. While an elected government might sometimes engage in activity that is legally or morally questionable there are normally some checks and balances in place to limit resort to such activity as well as periodic elections to repudiate what is done. For players in the deep state, there is no accountability and no legal limits and everything is based on self-interest justified through assertion of patriotism and the national interest if they are ever challenged.

Every country has a deep state of some kind even if it goes by another name. “The Establishment” or “old boys’ network” was widely recognized in twentieth century Britain. “Establishment” has often also been used in the United States, describing a community of shared values and interests that has evolved post-Second World War from the Washington-New York axis of senior government officials and financial services executives. They together constitute a group that claims to know what is “best” for the country and act accordingly, no matter who sits in the White House. They generally operate in the shadows but occasionally surface and become public, as when fifty foreign so-called policy experts or former senior officials write letters staking out political positions, as has been occurring recently. The “experts” are currently weighing in to both support and fund the campaign of Hillary Clinton, who, they believe, shares their views and priorities.

The deep state principle should sound familiar to Americans who have been following political developments over the past twenty years. For the deep state to be effective it must be intimately associated with the development or pre-existence of a national security state. There must also be a perception that the nation is in peril, justifying extraordinary measures undertaken by self-described patriots to preserve life and property of the citizenry. Those measures are generically conservative in nature, intended to protect the status quo with the implication that change is dangerous.

Those requirements certainly prevail in post 9/11 America and also feed the other essential component of the deep state, that the control should work secretly or at least under the radar. Consider for a moment how Washington operates. There is gridlock in Congress and the legislature opposes nearly everything that the White House supports. Nevertheless, certain things happen seemingly without any discussion, including the bipartisan, unconstitutional and extremely dangerous assumption of increased executive authority by the White House.

As the Post article demonstrates, there is also widespread acceptance by our country’s elites of the fiction that America is threatened and that Washington has a right to intervene preemptively anywhere in the world at any time. Unpopular and unconstitutional wars continue in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq while the American president routinely claims the meaningless title “leader of the free world” even as he threatens countries that do not adhere to norms dictated by Washington. In the case of Russia, some American leaders actually believe a potentially nuclear war can be won and should be considered while at least one general has taken steps to bring about such a conflict.

Meanwhile both targeted citizens and often innocent foreigners who fit profiles are assassinated by drones without any legal process or framework. Lying to start a war as well as the war crimes committed by US troops and contractors on far flung battlefields including torture and rendition are rarely investigated and punishment of any kind is so rare as to be remarkable when it does occur.

Here at home banks are bailed out and corporate interests are protected by law. Huge multi-year defense contracts are approved for ships and planes that are both vulnerable and money pits. The public is routinely surveilled, citizens are imprisoned without being charged or are tried by military tribunals, the government increasingly cites state secrets privilege to conceal its actions and whistleblowers are punished with prison. America the warlike predatory capitalist operating with little interference or input from the citizenry might be considered a virtual definition of deep state.

Some observers believe that the deep state is driven by the “Washington Consensus”, a subset of the “American exceptionalism” meme. It is plausible to consider it a 1950s creation, the end product of the “military industrial complex” that Dwight Eisenhower warned about, but some believe its infrastructure was actually put in place through the passage of the Federal Reserve Act prior to the First World War. Several years after signing the bill, Woodrow Wilson reportedly lamented:

We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilized world, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.

As I have noted, America’s deep state is something of a hybrid creature that operates along a New York to Washington axis. Where the Turks sometimes engage in unambiguous criminal activity like drug trafficking to fund themselves the Washington elite instead turns to the banksters, lobbyists and defense contractors, operating much more in the open and, ostensibly, legally. US style deep state includes all the obvious parties, both public and private, who benefit from the status quo to include key players in the police and intelligence agencies, the military, the treasury and justice departments and in the judiciary. It is structured to materially reward those who play along with the charade and the glue to accomplish that comes ultimately from Wall Street. “Financial services” might well be considered the epicenter of the entire process. Even though government is needed to implement desired policies, the banksters comprise the truly essential element, capable of providing genuine rewards for compliance. As corporate interests increasingly own the media, little dissent comes from the Fourth Estate as the process plays out while many of the proliferating Washington think tanks that provide deep state “intellectual” credibility are similarly funded by defense contractors.

The cross fertilization that is essential to make the system work takes place through the famous revolving door whereby senior government officials enter the private sector at a high level. In some cases the door revolves a number of times, with officials leaving government before returning in an even more elevated position. This has been characteristic of the rise of the so-called neoconservatives. Along the way, those select individuals are protected, promoted and groomed for bigger things. The senior government officials, ex-generals, and high level intelligence operatives who participate find themselves with multi-million dollar homes for their retirement years, cushioned by a tidy pile of investments.

The deep state in American is completely corrupt because it exists to sell out the public interest and it includes both major political parties as well as government officials. Politicians like the Clintons who leave the White House “broke” and accumulate more than $100 million in a few years exemplify how it rewards its friends while a bloated Pentagon churns out hundreds of unneeded flag officers who receive munificent pensions and benefits for the rest of their lives. And no one is punished, ever. Disgraced former general and CIA Director David Petraeus is now a partner at the KKR private equity firm even though he knows nothing about financial services. More recently, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who supports Hillary and is publicly advocating assassinating Russians and Iranians, has become a Senior Counselor at Clinton-linked Beacon Global Strategies. Both Petraeus and Morell are being rewarded for their loyalty to the system.

What makes the deep state so successful? It wins no matter who is in power by creating bipartisan supported money pits within the system. Unending wars and simmering though hard to define threats together invite more spending on national security and make for good business. Monetizing the completely unnecessary and hideously expensive global war on terror benefits the senior government officials, beltway industries and financial services that feed off it. Because it is essential to keep the money flowing, the deep state persists in promoting policies that otherwise make no sense, to include the unwinnable wars currently enjoying marquee status in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The deep state knows that a fearmongered public will buy its product and does not even have to make much of an effort to sell it.

The United States of America is not exactly deep state Turkey but to be sure any democracy can be subverted by particular interests hiding behind the mask of patriotism buttressed by phony international threats. Ordinary Americans frequently ask why politicians and government officials appear to be so obtuse, rarely recognizing what is actually occurring in the country. That is partly due to the fact that the political class lives in a bubble of its own creation but it might also be because many of America’s leaders actually accept and benefit from the fact that there is an unelected, un-appointed and unaccountable presence within the system that actually manages what is taking place from behind the scenes. That would be the American deep state.

_____

This article is a lightly edited version of a paper presented at the Ron Paul Institute’s conference on peace and prosperity held on September 10 2016 in Dulles, Virginia.

 

http://www.unz.com/article/deep-state-america-2/

Categories: Uncategorized

Retrotopia: The Cloud that Hides the Future

by John Michael Greer

 

The Archdruid Report (September 14 2016)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

This is the twenty-fifth and last installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator spends his last few hours in the Lakeland Republic, finds an answer to a question that has been bothering him, and boards the train back to Pittsburgh and the unknowns that wait there…

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

There wasn’t much more to be said after that, and so we all mouthed the usual things and I headed back to my hotel. The rain had settled in good and hard by then, so I didn’t dawdle. Back in the room, I got my coat and hat hung up to dry a little, and then turned the radio on to the jazz station, settled into the chair, and read the morning news. I had one more appointment at noon, and a train to catch at 2:26 that afternoon, and not a thing to do until then; I knew that I was going to be up to my eyeballs in meetings, briefings, and two weeks of unanswered textmails the minute I got back home; and just at the moment, the thought of taking some time at the Lakeland Republic’s less frantic pace and trying to make a little more sense of the world had a definite appeal.

I’d already read the headlines, so there weren’t too many surprises in store, though a United Nations panel had issued another warning about the zinc shortage, and meteorologists were predicting that the monsoons would fail in south Asia for the third year in a row. Two more satellites had been taken out by debris; a second jokulhlaup down in Antarctica had chucked another thousand square miles or so of ice sheet into the Indian Ocean; stock markets everywhere outside the Lakeland Republic had had another really bad day; the ceasefire negotiations in the California civil war had gotten off to a rocky start, and more details had gotten through about the opening rounds of the Texas-Confederate war – both sides’ offshore oil fields had taken even more of a hit than the original reports suggested.

That was only about half of the first section, though, and it was the other half, and the rest of the paper, that held my attention. That was the stuff that wasn’t about shortages and crises. It was about what people do when they’re not being held hostage by shortages and crises. There were birth announcements, marriage announcements, obituaries; a new streetcar line out to one of Toledo’s eastern neighborhoods was in the planning stages, with public meetings scheduled to sort out the route over the winter and tracklaying planned to start next May; a high school student was honored for volunteering more than a thousand hours reading the daily newspaper over one of the Toledo radio stations, for blind people and shut-ins; the big local shipyard had just bought another piece of property and would be hiring another three hundred people to meet the demand for shipping.

Then there were the help-wanted ads, pages and pages of them, looking for shipwrights, file clerks, millworkers, secretaries, mechanics, all the jobs that got automated or offshored out of existence back home and were keeping people busy and self-supporting here. There were two full pages of apprenticeship ads – if I’d wanted to become a carpenter, a pharmacist, a plumber, a doctor, an electrician, a millwright, a teacher, or a lawyer, just for starters, I would have had no trouble in the world figuring out where to apply.

All the while, though, the thoughts that had circled through my head on the trip back from Janice Mikkelson’s mansion hung in the air around me, and not even Louis Armstrong’s trumpet solos on the radio could chase them away. People knew long before I was born that the things we were doing were going to end really, really badly, and yet everyone just kept on marching ahead, making the same dumb decisions over and over again, convinced that if they just did the same thing one more time it would undo the bad results they’d gotten every other time they’d done it. If you discover that you’re in a hole, the saying is, the first thing to do is stop digging – but that’s exactly what nobody was willing to do, because they’d convinced themselves that digging the hole deeper was the only way to get out of it.

That was the thing that twisted like a knife. The climate mess that was dumping icebergs off Antarctica and had already turned half of Manhattan into a rusting ruin that flooded deeper with every high tide, the Kessler syndrome that was busy putting an end to the space age, the cascading shortages that were taking a bigger bite out of the world’s economies every single year: none of those had happened by accident. They weren’t the result of fate, or destiny, or any of that claptrap. We’d progressed straight into each of them.

Of course progress also churned out plenty of good things back in the day – that’s why the jobs in the help-wanted ads weren’t limited to “peasant”. Somehow, though, most people outside the Lakeland Republic never got around to noticing when the costs of progress started to outweigh the benefits. Everybody kept talking about how progress was supposed to make people’s lives easier and better even when it started making people’s lives harder and worse, and when some part of that became too hard to ignore, everybody insisted that the only option was to go in for yet another round of progress.

And somehow, I thought, I’m going to have to explain all this to the people back home.

So I was in a pretty sour mood, all things considered, by the time the radio stopped playing jazz and the eleven o’clock news came on instead. I turned it off, got my coat and hat back on, grabbed my suitcase, and headed down to the lobby to check out. After two weeks in the Lakeland Republic, I wasn’t too surprised when the clerk wrote something with a pen in a notebook full of sheets of paper, took my key, and wished me a good trip home in less time than it would have taken a hotel clerk elsewhere to get the computer to do whatever it is hotel computers do. Then I was out on the sidewalk under the canopy in front of the hotel door. The rain was still pelting down, but I flagged down a cab to go the train station.

Not quite half an hour later I got out in front of the station, paid my fare, got my suitcase, and headed in. The big vaulted space with benches on one side and ticket counters on the other was pretty well stocked with people going about their lives. I headed over to a window to one side of the ticket counters, stashed my suitcase with the clerk there – I’d asked Melanie about that and so knew what to do – and then headed for one of the restaurants on the side closest to the street. The place was starting to fill up with the lunch trade, but a glance back at the big clock on the wall above the platform doors showed me that I was still early. I went in anyway, asked the greeter for a table for two, got seated at a little table over by the windows looking at the street, shed my coat and hat, and ordered a chicory coffee to kill the time.

I’m not sure how much time passed, and how many cabs stopped to disgorge their passengers on the curb out front, before one of them finally let out the person I was waiting for. It was Melanie, of course, bundled up in a raincoat and broad-brimmed hat the way she’d been when we’d first met. She got most of the way to the station entrance before she spotted me there in the window; she waved, so did I, and then she hurried inside out of the rain and came around to the restaurant entrance. A few moments later she was settling into the chair across the table from me.

The waitress came over pretty much the moment Melanie sat down, so we got menus and talked about little things that don’t matter for a bit, until the waitress came back and took the menus and our order. I waited until she was gone, and then said, “I admit I’m really curious about Meeker’s reaction”.

“I bet”, she said, with a sly smile.

That was what I expected her to say, and she knew that I expected it, so I smiled too. Everybody in my line of work makes jokes about horizontal diplomacy; of course it’s discouraged, and of course it happens, and if you’re in politics and get into that kind of situation you know exactly where the lines are, and edge up to them now and then just to firm up the boundaries. When you get a relationship between two people in politics, you make extra sure that both know where the boundaries are so they don’t get in the way of the relationship, and one of the things that I liked about Melanie was that she was as professional about it all as I was.

“I’ll say this much”, she said after a moment. “You took him by surprise, which isn’t easy to do – but it was a pleasant surprise. If there’s any help you need from our side to help push things along, let us know and we’ll see what we can do.”

“Please thank him for me”, I said. “I don’t have much more of a clue about how to push this thing than I did this morning, though”.

She nodded. “May I offer a suggestion?”

“Of course”.

“Focus on cutting subsidies. It costs a lot to prop up the illusion of progress, and if you actually make every technology cover all its own costs, things sort themselves out really quickly.”

“Granted”, I said, “but you know as well as I do that the tech sector and some of the other resource hogs are going to scream the moment anybody tries to push them away from the feed trough”.

“True. The one advantage of this wretched war is that Ellen Montrose may have a little less trouble making that happen.”

I nodded, conceding. “The war and the economy”, I said. “Our stock market had another ghastly day yesterday, and I’m pretty sure the impact of losing the Gulf oil fields hasn’t really hit yet”.

The waitress came back with lunch, made a little conversation, and headed off to the next table. “One thing that might help”, I said then, “is if more people from our side of the border come here and see what you’ve done on this side. I know I was completely clueless about what was going on here, even after reading a pretty fair stack of briefing documents. I’d like to see more people see for themselves, if that can be done without putting too much of a burden on you.”

“We can handle it”, said Melanie.

“I also meant you personally”, I said with a smile.

“I survived the Honorable Velma Streiber”, she said, with a smile of her own. “After that I think I can handle just about anything”.

I laughed, and so did she. We busied ourselves with our respective plates for a few minutes.

“I wonder”, she said then. “If you really want people from your side of the border to see what we’re doing on ours, President Montrose might want to make an official visit. We’d be happy to host something like that.”

I considered her. “That’s a real possibility”. Then: “Have you had any other heads of state visit?”

“A few”. She gestured with her fork, dismissing the idea. “Once diplomatic relations got reestablished after the Treaty of Richmond, we let it be known that we’d be happy to welcome any head of state that wanted to pay a visit, and reciprocate. The President of Chicago’s been here, of course – show me a country in North America he hasn’t visited – and we’ve exchanged state visits with Quebec and Missouri, but everyone else has backed away uneasily from the suggestion.” The fork jabbed down into her chef’s salad. “We’re still North America’s pariah nation, you know”.

“Even though your way of doing things works”, I said.

“No”. She glanced up at me. “Because our way of doing things works”.

We ate in silence for another few minutes. Of course her words made me think yet again of the same frustrating question I’d been brooding over earlier. It must have showed in my face, because she said, “Penny for your thoughts”.

“Just wondering why it is that everyone else keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, trying to fix their problems by doing more of what made the problem in the first place”.

“Progress?”

“Yes”.

“I have a suggestion”. When I gestured for her to go on: “I think it’s because all your talented people get put to work building new gadgets, instead of coming up with solutions for the problems that gadgets can’t fix. That means you have too many gadgets and a serious shortage of solutions.”

I stared at her for a moment. “And since your talented people aren’t working on gadgets – ”

“We’ve found some solutions. Yes.” Then: “There was nothing wrong with seeing how far progress could go and still get useful results. The problem was simply that people forgot to stop once they passed that point. We’ve got all the gadgets we need; you’ve got more than you need – and maybe it’s time to stop putting all our talents and our efforts into more gadgets and get to work on some of the other things that go into being human.”

I nodded after another, longer moment, but I knew already that I had my answer.

We talked about other things after that, mostly personal; I promised to write – the Atlantic Republic still has a postal system, though it’s nothing like as good as the one the Lakeland Republic has – and so did she; I paid the bill, we kissed, and then she went back to the Capitol and I got my suitcase from the baggage room and headed for the doors to the platforms.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Train Twenty-two to Pittsburgh via Sandusky, Canton, and Steubenville”, someone called out. “Now boarding at Platform Six. Train Twenty-two.”

I showed my ticket, and a couple of minutes later I was on Platform Six. A conductor took another look at my ticket and sent me three cars up, to a car that was going all the way to the end of the line. I climbed aboard, got my suitcase stowed, and settled into a window seat on the right hand side.

What was going to happen when I got back home, I knew, was a complete crapshoot. Among Ellen’s top advisers, I’d been the most outspoken critic of her planned reworking of government policies, and so it was pretty much a given that once I threw my support to the plan, it would go ahead. Just how far the legislature would be willing to cut government subsidies for technology and stop penalizing employers for hiring workers was another question, and just how much of the broader Lakeland Republic program would be adopted was an even bigger one. The more clear it became that what they were doing worked, and what we were doing didn’t, the easier it would be to push that ahead, but there would be plenty of resistance among those who still thought that it made some kind of sense to keep doing the same thing while expecting different results.

Maybe I could make it work, and maybe I couldn’t. Maybe my term as ambassador to the Lakeland Republic would be successful, and maybe I’d flop. Maybe the other North American nations could get Texas and the Confederacy to agree to a ceasefire before they ran both nations into the ground, and maybe we’d all end up with failed states on our southern borders and a world-class refugee problem. For that matter, though I had high hopes for the relationship Melanie and I had gotten going, there was no way to know in advance if that would work out in the long run or turn out to be a flash in the pan. The future hides in a cloud, and you just don’t know what’s going to pop out of it.

The conductor came through, calling out his “All aboard!” as a last handful of passengers got on. Doors clattered shut. No, I thought, there’s no way to tell in advance what’s behind the cloud that hides the future, but maybe – just maybe – I can make a difference.

The car jolted once, and then began to move.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

In other fiction-related news, Founders House Publishing – the publishers of Star’s Reach and the After Oil anthologies – has just released the second volume of Ralph Meima’s Inter States series, Emergent Disorder. It’s a harrowing and uncomfortably plausible vision of the United States in terminal crisis, and readers of my novel Twilight’s Last Gleaming may want to check it out. It can be ordered at {1}.

John Michael Greer is Past Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {2}, current head of the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn {3}, and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy this blog and can handle discussions of Druidry, magic, and occult philosophy, you might like his other blog, Well of Galabes {4}.

Links:

{1} http://www.foundershousepublishing.com/2016/06/inter-states-emergent-disorder.html

{2} http://www.aoda.org/

{3} http://www.druidical-gd.org/

{4} http://galabes.blogspot.com/

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.jp/2016/09/retrotopia-cloud-that-hides-future.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Capitalist Breakdown and the Drive to War

by Nick Beams

World Socialist Web Site, wsws.org (September 06 2014)

The most striking aspect of this week’s meeting of the governing council of the European Central Bank (“ECB”) was not the decisions it took to further reduce official interest rates and initiate the purchase of asset-backed securities, significant as they were.

Rather, it was the deep sense of malaise that hung over the meeting as the financial powers-that-be confronted the fact that six years after the breakdown of the global financial system in 2008, not only are they no closer to finding a set of policies to bring about economic “recovery”, the situation is worsening.

With output in the euro zone still below its level in 2007, the dismal outlook was reflected in the remarks of ECB President Mario Draghi. He referred to “downside risks”, “a loss of cyclical growth momentum”, and a “lack of confidence in the future”. As if to underline these comments, a report published the following day revealed that investment in the euro area had fallen in the second quarter.

The worsening trends in the European economy are only the most graphic expression of global developments. In Japan, the world’s third largest single-nation economy, “Abenomics”, which was supposed to have provided a boost through a fiscal and monetary stimulus plan, is widely acknowledged to be “running out of steam”.

China, the world’s second largest economy, is said to be “unravelling” as concerns mount over the instability of the financial system, amid falls in the property market and real estate investment, which provided much of the economic expansion after 2008.

The fact that the United States economy, where economic growth has been only one percent overall for the first half of this year, is regarded as a “bright spot” is indicative of the worsening global economic outlook.

These facts and figures make clear that the financial collapse of September~October 2008 was not a conjunctural event, but the start of what has become an ongoing disaster.

The extent of the breakdown was revealed in evidence presented on August 22 in a US court hearing. In a document filed with the US Court of Federal Claims, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve during the height of the crisis, stated:

September and October 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression. Of the thirteen most important financial institutions in the United States, twelve were at risk of failure within a period of a week or two.

The far-reaching consequences of the breakdown can be seen in every aspect of economic, social and political life.

Having no economic solution to the crisis of the profit system, the ruling elites worldwide are stepping up their attacks on the working class, determined to crush any resistance by military means, as the events in Ferguson, Missouri so clearly demonstrate.

Social inequality is widening, as evidenced by data from the US Federal Reserve that shows median American incomes declined by five percent from 2010 to 2013, during the so-called economic “recovery”.

The geo-political situation is characterised by ever-increasing militarism, bringing the prospect of another world war closer than at any time since 1939.

Analysing the underlying reasons for the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Leon Trotsky drew out the connection between the crisis of the world economy and the turn to militarism. His remarks have lost none of their relevance for today.

The years leading up to the outbreak of World War One, like the period prior to 2008, were marked by stormy economic growth. But by 1913~1914, the limits to that growth had been reached and the world economy experienced a fundamental shift.

From the middle of the 1890s, Trotsky explained, the basic curve of capitalist development climbed steeply upwards. But this very upswing created the conditions for a breakdown.

“In 1914”, Trotsky wrote, “a crisis broke out which marked not merely a periodic oscillation, but the beginning of an epoch of prolonged economic stagnation. The imperialist war was an attempt to break out of the impasse.”

Further economic development at the pace of the previous period was “extremely difficult”, as the bourgeoisie “flinched against the limits of the market”.

“This created class tensions, made worse by politics, and this led it to war in August 1914”.

History, of course, does not repeat itself. But the parallels between the period leading up to 1914 and our own times are nonetheless striking. In 2006, barely a year before the financial system began to experience increasing turbulence, the world economy enjoyed its highest level of growth in more than three decades.

According to the official version of events, the American economy was characterised by a “great moderation” in which the problems it had confronted in the 1970s and 1980s had finally been overcome. China and the so-called “emerging markets” were providing a new foundation for the world economy. Even Africa was viewed as a new basis for global capitalist expansion.

However, the expansion was based on quicksand – the exponential growth of financial speculation and parasitism. Like a tuberculosis victim, capitalism had acquired rosy cheeks before plunging into a disaster.

The ruling classes have no way out, other than the provision of endless supplies of cash to financial markets that are terrified of the consequences of being cut off, coupled with the intensification of militarism as each of the capitalist great powers seeks a solution at the expense of its rivals.

The drive to war is also being fuelled by the rise of class conflict at home, as governments attempt to deflect tensions outwards while creating a police-military state apparatus to defend the capitalist order against the coming social explosion produced by worsening social conditions and rising inequality.

The only way forward for the international working class – the producers of the economic wealth that could provide a decent future for all – is the development of a mass anti-war movement based on the program of socialist internationalism. The working class must take the wheel of political power in its own hands and turn it towards the reconstruction of the world economy based on human need, not the dictates of profit. There is no other way out of the catastrophe into which global capitalism is plunging mankind.

Copyright (c)1998-2016 World Socialist Web Site – All rights reserved

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/09/06/pers-s06.html

Categories: Uncategorized

The Disturbing Signs …

… of Global Conflict Continue to Gather Pace

by Graham Vanbergen

Strategic Culture Foundation (September 09 2016)

 

The signs are ominous, the rhetoric constant. Whichever way you look at it, the world is slowly descending into an ever greater spiral of conflict. We all know that the current wars raging in the Middle East have the potential to go catastrophically wrong and pull the super-powers into something much bigger.

You also know things are not good when the so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ from alternative media outlets eventually goes mainstream, and there’s no shortage:

* http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/14/heres-how-world-war-three-could-start-tomorrow/

* http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/opinion/13FRIE.html

* http://www.globalresearch.ca/world-war-iii-in-the-pipeline-us-and-european-allies-threaten-russia-americans-need-to-wake-up/5537436

* http://www.australianetworknews.com/world-war-3-update-us-warns-china-at-g20-summit/

* https://www.rt.com/op-edge/358379-china-russias-g20-message/

* http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2016/08/17/480468/US-Donald-Trump-Police-Shooting-Lendman

* https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/25/spie-f25.html

To confirm the state of the world today, the Global Peace Index states, and I quote – “There are now only ten countries in the world that are free from conflict”.

The Independent has a forty second video {1} of these ten countries, it’s worth watching, you’ll be surprised.

Some believe World War Three has already started, most dispute that. It takes no more than a spark to light the fire and currently there are a lot of sparks flying around. Even political instability in the European Union as a result of a refugee crisis is a cause for concern. Pew Research, published just last month, confirmed that European’s fear a wave of refugees will mean more terrorism and fewer jobs {2}. Violent protests have broken out, politician’s are worried. The Vice President of the International Relations Committee at Hungary’s parliament, Jobbik Member Marton Gyongyosi was supported by other EU leaders when he has suggested that “physical protection of our borders” is required. He went further:

 

 

The US caused this (refugee) problem in the neighborhood of Europe and then leans back criticizing European countries for not dealing with the problem efficiently.

 

 

In that context, a few EU leaders are calling for an EU wide army and its own intelligence service. It seems America and therefore Nato are not as trusted as they once were. The US/EU trade deal TTIP, the largest deal in the history of humanity, is reported as being over. Is this evidence of the widening gap of disagreement, maybe.

The outcome is a changing political landscape. Before the European Union was created by the Maastricht Treaty on November 1st 1993 there were just 25 nationalist political parties. Since the birth of the formalised EU there has been a 150 per cent rise in political parties on the extremes of the political spectrum, now totalling 64. One of them was Ukip that focused on immigration and subsequently produced the “Brexit” protest vote that now threatens to tear the EU project apart.

North Korea is a wild card scenario – anything could happen, but if South Korea was attacked, America would have no option but to step in. And what would China do – it’s anyone’s guess.

Tension has substantially risen around the world over USA and Russia/China relations, the South China Sea, Ukraine and Crimea, multiple Mid-East conflicts, north Africa and South America. One should not forget currency wars, economic and political sanctions adding to the global strain. John Pilger’s interview on the Threat of World War Three {3} leaves the viewer in no doubt as to where he lays blame, and if anyone knows about war, he should, he’s covered most of them since Vietnam.

Even basic resources are a cause for concern. Natural water for one, food scarcity, food security and environmental disasters all add to a backdrop where global terrorism is massively on the rise, global debt is now a third bigger than prior to 2007, mass protests due to political instability, such as South America (Brazil being a new hotspot) all adding to increasing tension.

The geo-political situation is now characterised by ever-increasing militarism across the world, bringing the prospect of another world war closer than at any time since 1939.

Scrutinising the underlying issues and causes for the devastating outbreak of World War One in 1914 which ended up killing seventeen million {4}, Leon Trotsky laid bare the startling similarities between the crisis of the world economy at the time and the turn to militarism. Historical records display a relevance for today that should serve as an advance warning of the horrors that extreme neoliberalism and globalisation offers up if we do not make efforts to pull back from the brink.

From WSWS in an article entitled “Capitalist breakdown and the drive to war”, comparisons are made between the extreme economic conditions just prior to the first world war and today:

 

 

The years leading up to the outbreak of World War One, like the period prior to 2008, were marked by stormy economic growth. But by 1913~1914, the limits to that growth had been reached and the world economy experienced a fundamental shift. From the middle of the 1890s, Trotsky explained, the basic curve of capitalist development climbed steeply upwards. But this very upswing created the conditions for a breakdown. “In 1914”, Trotsky wrote, “a crisis broke out which marked not merely a periodic oscillation, but the beginning of an epoch of prolonged economic stagnation. The imperialist war was an attempt to break out of the impasse.” Further economic development at the pace of the previous period was “extremely difficult”, as the bourgeoisie “flinched against the limits of the market”. “This created class tensions, made worse by politics, and this led it to war in August 1914. {5}

 

 

Corrupt bankers represent a threat not only to those they directly rip off but also potentially the entire global financial system the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has warned.

The parallels are striking, particularly as the financial crisis forced upon us in 2007~2008 by an out of control banking system, that benefited a tiny elite, caused wave after wave of economic turbulence, austerity and the dismantling of the social democratic movement that itself was born from the wreckage of World War Two. Peoples across the world are getting angry as inequality worsens.

Mark Carney has written a very strongly worded letter, in his capacity as chair of the Financial Stability Board (“FSB”) to a global forum of national regulators, financial ministries and central banks – to the G20, which is currently meeting in China.

“The incidence of financial sector misconduct has risen to a level that has the potential to create systemic risks” he says. The message is quite clear. Carney believes there is another systemic crisis centred around financial markets. Even he believes and openly stated that corrupt bankers now represent a threat not only to those they directly rip off but also to the entire global financial system. Last year, just four of Britain’s banks were fined well over fiftu billion GBP ($67 billion) for their egregious acts of criminality {6}. Prison beckoned for no-one, whilst poverty soared. Don’t forget the London riots. Spreading like wildfire, the resulting chaos generated looting, arson, and mass deployment of police and resulted in the death of five people. In just three days, a dozen towns and cities were no-go areas of violence, 3,443 crimes reported, over a thousand arrests – from an unrelated spark.

According to Jim Rickards, the CIA’s Asymmetric Warfare Advisor, the probability of a new global conflict is rising every day. In a startling interview from last year he reveals that all sixteen US Intelligence Agencies have begun to prepare for World War Three {7}. Richards is predicting the fall of the dollar with the result of “an extended period of global anarchy”.

In the meantime, Russia is preparing to be attacked by Nato and America. Global Research reports that Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, President of the International Centre of Geopolitical Analysis explained in an interview to KP, that

 

 

… if data on Russia-Nato power balance at the Western direction is analyzed, as well as military activity build-up rate at our borders, scale of combat equipment deployment, if the grade of Russia’s demonization is estimated, one can say that preparation to a real war is taking place, as such acts are usually undertaken at the forefront of a war {8}.

 

 

Russia, so threatened by the West, it is now building huge nuclear bunkers {9} around Moscow to protect itself at a time when financial resources are at best ‘stretched’.

As TIME reports,

 

 

The South China Sea has instantly become uncharted waters for the globe’s two most-powerful nations. The ruling from the Netherlands, while legally binding, has no mechanism for enforcement. That means negotiations will be required to ease the growing territorial tensions in and around the South China Sea. If talks don’t happen, or go nowhere – and China continues to refuse to back down – a military clash could occur. {10}

 

 

Dr Paul Craig Roberts quite firmly believes a Third World War is currently being fought. How long before it moves into its hot stage he asks:

 

 

Washington is currently conducting economic and propaganda warfare against four members of the five bloc group of countries known as BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Brazil and South Africa are being destabilized with fabricated political scandals. Both countries are rife with Washington-financed politicians and Non-Governmental Organizations (“NGOs”). Washington concocts a scandal, sends its political agents into action demanding action against the government and its NGOs into the streets in protests.

We have already seen what the New World Order has done with Islam. As Pope Francis says, they have used it to foment a crisis, a clash of civilisations

 

 

Even The Pope believes the start of World War Three is underway – “To be clear, when I speak about war, I speak about real war. Not a war of religion. There is a war of interests. There is a war for money. There is a war for natural resources. There is a war for domination of peoples” Pope Francis said, alluding to globalisation and the goals of the so-called New World Order of complete and total control over every human being on the planet.

Already, the world has more displaced people than at any time during the course of either World War One or Two. The fight for resources as a direct result of globalism now threatens peace on every continent in the world.

The Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognised design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilisation with dangerous technologies of our own making, nuclear weaponry by far our most dangerous experiment, makes the clock tick each year. It puts the current time of war at 23.57 – just 120 seconds left.

The current position of the Doomsday Clock is the closest it has been since 1984 and is actually a few clicks closer to reaching a global extinction event for humans than in 1962 when the Cuban missile crisis had twitchy American and Russian fingers on red buttons. What a cataclysmic ending for humanity, bombed back into the stone age. For what?

Links:

{1} http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/global-peace-index-2016-there-are-now-only-10-countries-in-the-world-that-are-not-at-war-a7069816.html

{2} http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/07/11/europeans-fear-wave-of-refugees-will-mean-more-terrorism-fewer-jobs/

{3} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahEdcuxlN1o

{4} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties

{5} http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/09/06/pers-s06.html

{6} http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-3184282/Britain-s-big-four-banks-rack-50bn-fines-financial-crisis-HSBC-set-pay-500m-rigging-foreign-exchange-markets.html

{7} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAyhqEl5WRQ

{8} http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-nato-prepares-for-war-against-russia-washingtons-objective-create-divisions-between-europe-and-russia/5533377

{9} http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/707195/Vladimir-Putin-russia-top-secret-nuclear-bunkers-moscow-world-war-three-Mount-Yamantau

{10} http://time.com/4402562/south-china-sea-hague-ruling/

{11} http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2016/04/25/world-war-iii-has-begun-paul-craig-roberts/

{12} http://yournewswire.com/pope-francis-vatican-acknowledges-world-war-3-has-begun/

_____

Republishing is welcomed with reference to Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal http://www.strategic-culture.org.

http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2016/09/10/disturbing-signs-global-conflict-continue-gather-pace.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Time to Mandate a Return to Paper Ballots Nationwide

by Dave Lindorff

CounterPunch (September 19 2016)

Politicians of both major parties love to boast that the US is the world’s oldest democracy and of course a “model for the world”. Putting aside the matter of whether or not that is even true (US “democracy” cannot really be said to have begun until women got the vote in 1920, and maybe until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made voting by blacks truly a reality in parts of the country, and meanwhile Iceland’s Althing or parliament dates to 930 AD), the use of electronic voting machines in many jurisdictions has made any such claims a complete joke.

These needlessly confusing, often malfunctioning, and easily hackable devices, which have demonstrably done things like switch whole voting records from one candidate to another, or simply erased all votes cast in a day, and which are so costly that they are used as an excuse to provide only minimal opportunity to vote in many “undesirable” election districts, leading to lines that can require waiting hours outdoors just to get to cast a ballot, belie the claims made for the US to be a beacon of liberty and democratic governance.

So what’s the deal with these machines? Why do we even have them?

The goal of any voting system should be accuracy, not speed of counting, and yet we see state after state and county after county getting sold on electronic equipment that is costly, error-ridden, failure prone, and unnecessary. For centuries, people in democracies have voted by raised hands or with paper ballots, with minimal problems given good official and volunteer oversight.

What is driving the switch to machines in the US is the media. The same corporate media that have turned campaigns into battles over soundbites, “gotcha” questions, and a focus on non-issues like whether a candidate’s hair is silly looking or whether he/she believes in God.

For the corporate media, Election Day and Election Night are all about money – specifically a race to “call” election results. Who will be first to announce a winner as the votes are tallied? In an industry that has been paring down news budgets year after year to the point that little serious reporting gets done, vast sums are spent having people stationed at polling places everywhere calling in the tallies as they get read out of the machines.

But why should we care – particularly when it comes to national races – when newly elected, or re-elected, members of Congress, and the president, are not actually installed in office until January, more than two months after the voting is over and done with?

There is plenty of time to get it not first, but right, and that would be true even if we were to use paper ballots and count them by hand, as used to be the standard procedure.

Many countries that have fallen for the lure of electronic voting have later seen the error of their ways and have gone back to paper ballots, precisely for that reason. Some jurisdictions in the US have recently gone back to paper ballots, too. Their people want to make sure that votes are tallied properly, and that in the case of close races, the count can be checked accurately. Out of eight European countries that experimented with electronic voting machines, six have rejected the idea and have gone back to paper ballots. We saw that system at work earlier this year in the bitterly fought and unexpectedly close “Brexit” vote that saw a narrow majority of Britons vote to have the UK leave the Eurozone.

As a Fulbright journalism professor in residence at Sun Yat-Sen National University in Kaohsiung, I witnessed and reported on a hard-fought election in Taiwan in 2004 that showed just how reliable paper ballots can be. On that island, where democracy is a recent and enthusiastically practiced affair following decades of a nasty dictatorship under Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo, there was a fierce election contest between the incumbent president of the Democratic Progressive Party (“DPP”) and the candidate of the old Kuomintang (“KMT”) founded by Chiang. The big issue, as always in Taiwan, was relations with the People’s Republic of China, which doesn’t recognize Taiwan’s independence and considers it a province of China and China’s “largest island”. The DPP favors open independence and a standoffish approach to China, while the KMT typically wants better relations and closer economic ties.

In 2004 the race was unusually tight. Then, a week before the voting, both President Chen Shui-bian and his running made, VP Annette Lu, running on the DPP ticket, were hit by an apparent assassin’s bullet during a motorcade. Chen’s abdomen was grazed, leaving a horizontal gash across his abdominal muscles, while Lu’s kneecap was struck. There was a huge dispute over whether the shooting was staged or a real assassination attempt, though the path of the bullet, which entered through the front windshield of the jeep carrying the two candidates, followed a remarkable, ricocheting course hitting but only wounding both Chen and Lu (it was reminiscent of the “magic bullet” that is said to have killed JFK and wounded then Texas Governor John Connally). Turnout on election day after that incident was a record, with the final tally being 50.11% for the DPP candidates and 49.89% for the KMT slate. That was a margin of about 0.23%, out of 12.9 million votes cast. Talk about Florida in 2000!

Naturally, the KMT demanded a recount. There were battles in the courts and in the legislative Yuan over whether and how to do it, but ultimately the president agreed to a recount. I, along with most of the Taiwanese people, then watched in astonishment on television as bales of ballots were painstakingly hand counted in each voting district, each paper ballot passing from the hand of a representative of one party to the hand of a representative of the other party and then to a neutral judge before being counted. It was a grindingly slow process that took over a week to complete. In the end, Chen and the DPP still won the election, though his margin of victory slipped slightly from an original 29,518 votes, or 0.2291% of the total, to just 25,563 votes, or 0.2289%.

After all that effort, in other words, out of 12.9 million votes cast (about one tenth of the number cast in US presidential elections), the difference between the initial count and the recount was only 3955 votes.

Try to imagine a recount in any major election in the US coming out that close to the original count – especially in an election that close that included an assassination attempt! Many election districts in the US wouldn’t even be able to recount their votes, because their electronic machines have no paper record of individual votes – just the recorded totals – if that. In fact, according to one expert, electronic machines, which all have documented error rates, some as high as five percent of votes cast, because of both human error and inevitable internal glitches, mean that a recount of a really close race where the margin of victory was within that error rate wouldn’t prove anything.

Clearly, paper ballots work. They don’t provide a rapid result, which means that the ratings and the ad revenue from bleary-eyed voters watching endless blather on the tube interspersed with commercials for drugs, reverse mortgages and Ginsu knives, will plummet, but if the goal of a voting system is to get it right, paper ballots win by a landslide.

Why doesn’t the US go back to paper ballots?

Ask your local media.

Maybe someone should do a poll of us voters, and ask whether we want our elections to be fraud-free, or just want fast counting and a quick answer to who won. I suspect the fraud-free option would win hands down.

Of course, there can be fraud with paper ballots, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to stuff ballot boxes with paper ballots (there are, after all, records of how many people voted, so you’d have to steal away an equal number of cast ballots to make that work), or to alter a large number of cast ballots, or to steal and “lose” cartons of ballots. And it’s also easier for voting officials to put physical security around paper ballots until they are counted and until any recount has been done, than to guard against software viruses or hacks. For one thing, the competing parties’ officers and volunteers can physically verify the presence of secure guard personnel over cast paper ballots, while there’s no easy way to verify that proper measures are being taken to protect electronic systems and electronic records of votes cast.

The US has a long way to go to before it can make a credible claim to be one of the world’s leading democracies, even if not the oldest. Returning to paper ballots, and requiring all jurisdictions to have a long period before election day during which people can mail them in, would be a good start.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/19/time-to-mandate-a-return-to-paper-ballots-nationwide/

Categories: Uncategorized

Just Quit Calling It Democracy Already

by Elliot Sperber

CounterPunch (September 15 2016)

You know that we don’t live in a democracy, right? and that, except for a few, fleeting historical moments, there’s never been democracy, right?

You know that, for instance, there was no democracy in ancient Athens (where women were treated like property, and slavery was rampant, and only property-owning male citizens had any social power), right?

And you know that, as a matter of fact, there’s been no democracy in the USA for most of its history, too, right? That, as a matter of logic, there was no democracy when chattel slavery was widespread, and that democracy was nothing but a racist, sexist fiction when women were essentially the property of men, and all but wealthy, white men were excluded from participating in decision making, right?

Yes, you knew that. How could you not? But did you know that, in spite of the above, democracy has, on occasion, emerged in the USA as well? Well, it has. The social, political, and economic gains achieved by working people, the poor, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, and everyone else who’s managed to shake off some of the weight of the literal and metaphorical chains of the reigning order have been accomplished by democratic deviations from the norm (by breaking the rules, not to mention the laws). That’s where your democracy resides – as an exception to the rule, a rupture in the fabric of the generally anti-egalitarian social order.

As opposed to national histories, one can view this tendency as central to human history itself. As central as it is ubiquitous, one sees it emerging all over. Just look at Standing Rock, North Dakota, the ongoing national prison strike against slave labor, and the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s where democracy is – not to mention in Colin Kaepernick’s spreading disobedience (and in Edward Snowden’s and Chelsea Manning’s resistance, as well as in the millions of other, less visible, refusals occurring all over the planet). Those are the places where democracy lives – not in the rule, but in the egalitarian exception.

In spite of the many generations of egalitarian refusal and resistance, though (resistances that have in many respects brought us to, or created, the present moment), the fact of the matter is that we still inhabit a wholly plutocratic reality. How else is it the case that though a super-majority of people think that the USA should join the rest of the so-called developed world and extend universal healthcare to all we still have a for-profit health care system? Why’s this so? Who does it benefit? Isn’t it because of the golden rule? You know the golden rule, right? I think it’s in the bible: those with the gold (and the weapons, and the influence it buys) make the rules. Isn’t this the holding in Citizens United? Also known as plutocracy – the rule of the ploutos (the rich) – our “representative democracy” represents just this.

Why else is it the case that monetary considerations prevail over all others in this society? Or that, though most in the US don’t want the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be signed into law, and have succeeded in pressuring even Clinton and Trump into rejecting it, Obama nevertheless recently vowed that he would attempt to push it through Congress? Is that democratic? No, it isn’t. It’s plutocratic, though – through and through. So, here’s my question: why don’t we do ourselves a favor and quit referring to this society as democratic? It only makes us sound like fools.

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Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

More articles by Elliot Sperber: http://www.counterpunch.org/author/es/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/15/quit-calling-it-democracy/

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